3 reasons this could be a rough Memorial Day for drivers

·3 min read

Memorial Day weekend — summer's unofficial start — carries greater weight this year for Americans as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to abate the virus's widespread threat and allow for increased mingling. 

And that means millions are seizing the holiday weekend to travel and make up for time lost in 2020 when tighter restrictions put gatherings and vacations out of reach.

But the festivities won't come without challenges for road trippers as they set out on their way this Memorial Day weekend. Here's what to expect.

Traffic

Brakelights come on as vehicles head east out of Los Angeles on the Interstate 10 freeway in Alhambra, California on May 27, 2021, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)
Brakelights come on as vehicles head east out of Los Angeles on the Interstate 10 freeway in Alhambra, California on May 27, 2021, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Memorial Day drivers will see many more cars on the road this year versus 2020 when the pandemic kept many people at home. AAA expects 34.4 million motorists to hit the highways during the three-day weekend, up 52% from last year when only 22.6 million traveled by vehicle — the lowest volume on records dating back to 2000.

"Americans should expect very busy roads this summer," Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told Yahoo Money. "Keeping in mind that Americans are still finding it very difficult to travel overseas because of restrictions, a lot of Americans may simply choose to stay stateside this summer and that could boost up demand even more so than usual." 

Still, it could be worse. The forecast is 8% lower than the traffic volume in 2019, when 37.6 million people took road trips during Memorial Day weekend.

One of the worst days to travel this weekend — Thursday — has passed. But drivers in different major metros should expect congested conditions starting after lunch on Friday and into the evening, according to data from Inrix provided to Yahoo Money from AAA.

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Gasoline

Get ready to open your wallet at the pump this holiday weekend. The average price for regular gasoline on May 24, the Monday before the long weekend, was $3.02 per gallon, marking the highest price before Memorial Day since 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The price is also $1.14 per gallon higher than a year ago.

The states that have seen the largest changes in their averages since last week include: Michigan (+9 cents), Ohio (+5 cents), Hawaii (+4 cents), Oklahoma (-4 cents), Indiana (+3 cents), Alaska (+3 cents), Texas (-3 cents), Georgia (-3 cents), North Carolina (-3 cents) and Maryland (-3 cents), according to AAA.

“The higher gas prices will not keep people home," Jeanette McGee, AAA spokesperson, told Yahoo Money.

And while much of the Southeastern states have recovered from the Colonial Pipeline disruption earlier this month, McGee suggests calling ahead before stopping at a gas station in case there are localized shortages in the region.

Rental cars

People wearing masks are seen waiting outside an Avis car rental location on the Upper West Side as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 06, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
People wearing masks are seen waiting outside an Avis car rental location on the Upper West Side as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 06, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

If you're depending on a rental car to get you to or around your Memorial Day destination, expect some sticker shock this year.

Rental cars are in short supply after rental car companies slashed fleets early in the pandemic due to cratering demand. This means high costs for renters — if a rental is available at all.

Jonathan Weinberg, CEO and co-founder of AutoSlash, told Yahoo Money in April that rental cars in Hawaii are seeing a 9,900% increase in pricing compared with 2020. Visitors to Orlando, Denver, Las Vegas, Honolulu, and Maui will see the worst inventory shortages and highest prices, according to an analysis by Allianz Partners USA.

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Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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